September 28th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
August 4th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
A better question might be, “What’s NOT up with stock photography?” Answer? Royalties, number of paid productions, royalty free and rights managed revenues and photographer satisfaction.
A few points on the graph are on the upswing: number of people submitting photos, number of photos being used, number of photos submitted, growth of the microstock agencies’ revenue and the quality of images available to buyers from microstock.
The scales are overloaded with bad news for professional photographers that have depended on stock sales as their major source of revenue over the past few decades. Hand wringing, doomsday predictions and misplaced insults only create the illusion that one is doing something about the situation.
It's not the end of the world, photographers! © Liliya Abdullina | Dreamstime.com
The industry has radically changed. It is not likely to ever return to its glory days. What to do about the current state of affairs?
1. If stock makes up your sole income and your work is so specialized that only a few could fill your niche; congratulations, you are safe for now.
2. If not, develop alternative income and soon. What can you do with your skill set outside of stock? The hard fact is that some of you will choose to leave the industry. You will trade places with the amateurs that left their day jobs to become serious about stock. Those of you who make that decision are not failing but growing.
3. Create innovative images that will satisfy the most discriminating art buyer and place them in rights managed collections. (The revenues may be in decline but millions are still generated with these licenses)
The recession has contributed something to the decline in stock photo reviews.© Stephen Vanhorn | Dreamstime.com
4. Shrink your overheads to match your declining stock revenues. You can do it; most of America has figured out how in the last two years. Start with reviewing renegotiating charges for insurance, products and services.
5. Develop as many revenue streams as possible. That will include participating in microstock for some.
6. Revitalize your assignment business. Only a few have the talent, equipment, business skills and eye to consistently bring back the money shot. Make certain that that person is you by constantly improving and updating your skills and business sense. You may be an artist but you must be a savvy business person to succeed.
Part II What’s up with microstock? To follow
This post first appeared in slightly different form on the ASMP Strictly Business Blog
February 3rd, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
This is our summer of discontent. The never ending recession combined with falling day rates, cheap stock, overwhelming heat, high water and the lack of funds to escape to a cooler spot has many photographers in the doldrums. Work is slow and a hoped for turnaround in the fall is still too far away to hang a camera strap on. So have a cool drink…forget lemons to lemonade…how about a bloody-hell Mary? Or a Hail, Mary for that matter and a chuckle.
A colleague (I can’t reveal his name in order to protect his lack of innocence) who speaks to photographers day and night has heard enough photographers’ complaints lately to write a book. Instead he kicked his funny bone and came up with the following as proposed issue themes for PhotoDistrict News beginning in Jan 2011.
January: Happy New Year Editorial Day-Rate issue
February: In the Black–that WAS Photo-History Month issue
March: Beware the Idle of March-The undercut issue
April: Ding Dong. Oh, #$%@&, is that the Tax Man at the door?
May: “Captain! May Day! May Day! issue
June: Graduation Special: Brooks Institute Owes me $100,000 issue
July: Happy Google Images Day!
August: Back to Trade-School Issue
Sept: Rights Managed Memorial Day issue
October: PPE Conference: Please Please Earn (something, anything) issue
November: Happy Thanks-For-Nothing: Disgruntled Photographers’ Issue
December: “Here Comes hidden Contract-Claus, Here Comes hidden Contract-Claus…”
Now that we’ve gotten you laughing…mosey over to Amazon and buy my book due out August 24 for a read about how we got here -that’s in the first chapter and some tips on all things photographic except the stuff that you already know about lenses, lights and tripods (the rest of the book).
I’ll recap each chapter as the month goes on and list the names of the photographers that appear in that chapter. Stay tuned!
December 28th, 2009 by Ellen Boughn
Taylor Davidson finds himself at the intersection of photography, social media, business development and economics. His thoughts on where the stock photography business might be going and how to stay around for the ride:
Social Media Expert/Photography Geek Taylor Davidson
Taylor began our recent conversation, “All businesses have a life cycle, including creative businesses. There is the building or construction of the business, growth and what I like to call ‘creative reconstruction’ rather than deconstruction. Companies go from cottage businesses to being consumed by large companies (aggregators of content, in our case). The latest changes in stock photography are merely the latest cycle of industry upheaval. The technology required to create, distribute, promote and use stock images (like all creative content) changed everything”.
“The bigger question is what happens from here?”
“The economics of new technologies gave anyone the tools to create, but didn’t guarantee that they would profit from creating. While the activity is in the long tail, profits flow to the aggregators in the tail.” (Taylor refers to the
aggregator as the ‘hub’. Getty Images is the big wheel around the stock photo hub.)
Taylor points out that the economics of the hub have been changed by many factors, one of which is social media. He explains that electronic word of mouth has given power to smaller hubs. By being a specialty destination, your website/blog can become the hub for that subject or story. You can operate in smaller niches but you MUST be the hub in the niche. You must be really good at (your niche). You must be the top choice in the subject.
He says, “Be a hub. Find a niche, and be the hub in that niche. This advice applies to broader issues: how can you expand your scope? How can you create ancillary products; do other types of photography? How can you be a different kind of hub? Be a hub for information, for knowledge. Teach other people how to be a hub for their own niches. Bring other photographers together to create a hub.
I asked Taylor if he had suggestions for how a photographer could become a sought after hub of information/activity/engagement. After humbly explaining that he was very good at asking questions but not so great at coming up with answers (I disagree), Taylor added:
“I have a strong belief that successful businesses need to be more like people. Individuals want to connect to the people behind a business.” He suggests that a photographer that only shows photos on his/her website is missing opportunities to connect with their audience. People want to see more than a series of images. Photographers should use all the tools available to them to tell a story. Be a hub of information about not just yourself and your work but about a story that you have created.”
Santa Cruz Fog©Taylor Davidson
I asked Taylor what I should say to the photographer that is already overwhelmed with keeping a business going, faced with the need to post to a blog, create another story, learn FinalCutPro, or build a movement. Taylor is an optimist…but even so he and I agree:
“If you are blind to change, you aren’t going to make it in today’s market [for stock or assignment photography].” The photographer has to DO THE WORK. One task at a time, keep learning.
Davidson suggests, “One secret to continued growth in creative endeavors is to retain or recapture youthful curiosity. Young and emerging photographers are free to try all manner of things; part of the excitement is not knowing what the long-term impact of the experiment will be. Could be a career changer or a dud. The cost of failure when you are young is much less than at mid-career.”
“Even in mid-career, you must be willing to open yourself to serendipity. Don’t put yourself in a situation where the only experiments you try
are the ones that could wipe you out.” Try little experiments. Try one a day, one a week even if the burden of mid-career responsibilities keep you focused on getting through the demands of running an established business. These small experiences will sometimes create opportunities. (But don’t expect them all to.)”
(In a continuation of my conversation with Taylor in a future post, I discuss how photographers can embed humanity into their businesses and to break down the barriers between the message and the person. Taylor then discusses ‘the story’ and authentic marketing for photographers).
Taylor Davidson is a Business Designer and a photography geek who lives in New Orleans, LA. He focuses on evaluating and structuring business and financial plans to help launch new products, services and companies. He creates on the web at http://www.taylordavidson.com/writing
Deadly bored by business news? Toss the envelopes from the broker…if you still have enough money to have one…in the back of a drawer? Couldn’t read a financial statement if your life depended upon it? (Guess what? It does).
If so, listen up. Accept: stock photography and photography in general is in a downward spiral. You can’t move ahead without facing the brink:
In the early part of the decade that NY Times Op/Ed writer and economist, Paul Krugman, calls the Big Zero perhaps as many as fifteen percent of the photographers who had work with Getty Images were making from $12,000 up to $100,000 annually and a few were pulling in that much quarterly.
Photographers said with confidence, “This is going to be my retirement income.” Ooops.
Dial ahead to now: the comment now is how much income from licensing stock photographs has decreased. A year ago, the percentage was around 15-20%. Today the average decrease can be over 50%.
The most important thing you can do in the coming year is to accept that your life is changed for good. Krugman has sobering stats : http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/28/age-of-diminished-expectations/
Economic recovery doesn’t mean recovering what was lost but a re-casting of the lives that we used to have. This means if you are in it for a six figure income, your chances of getting there quickly or at all could be the same as the odds of me dancing with the Joffrey Ballet.
To succeed in the next decade determine to work hard with razor sharp focus on goals, put your ego in your back pocket and a rabbit’s foot on your keychain. Adjust your expectations, cut your expenses and expand your repertoire. AND if you don’t already know: learn the fundamentals of running a small business.
RPI (return per image per shoot) doesn’t mean much if you are smothered by overhead. Take a look at your professional and personal costs. Do you shop as a leisure activity? Do you have to have the latest gear not because it is that much better but because it is a symbol of your ‘success’ whether you can afford it or not? All that is so 2005. Only buy what you need and you’ll be surprised at how much more you’ll have.
- Review your financial statement monthly
- Review your end of month financials every month. Even if you have an accountant, it’s your business to be able to analyze financials and budgets.
- Review your insurance policies annually. Are you paying to ensure equipment that you no longer own? Do you have a current equipment inventory in case of theft and to use in depreciation schedules on your taxes? If you don’t have health insurance, get it. If you can’t afford it, buy a policy with a very large deductable. Photography is a business that involves physical risk.
- Renegotiate fees with all the services that you use: start with the accountant. I did a little comparision shopping and will save at least $600 this year by switching.
You won’t be the only one with changed attitudes toward money/life. There is no shame in the fact that your stock income has tanked…anyone who says theirs hasn’t, is probably mistaken. Don’t wallow in thoughts of the way life used to be: You can even use these fresh attitudes to inform your photos by studying how consumer attitudes have changed. Use this information as you plan lifestyle shoots:
Finally notes on building a skating rink…err not really…by master marketer Seth Godin: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/12/you-dont-have-the-power.html
- Join ASMP to learn/refresh about how to run a photography business
- Twittering and FB may seem like work but watch your ROI in time in social networks
- Comparision shop and bargain for all services
- Photo of storming skies is by Moonwire from Flickr under There is a lesson here too.